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In my last correspondence in April, I had just successfully shipped the container full of equipment on its way to Manila. I booked flights to Manila to correspond with the arrival of the container in late May. This would allow me to be present when the container was opened.

After packing about 400 pairs of used glasses in my luggage, I head for the airport. As I reach the check in counter, the agent carefully looks at my ticket and my passport and finally looks up at me and says: “I cannot let you board the flight today. Your passport expires in 3 months and it has to be valid for 6 months beyond your departure date to be allowed on this flight!” (Ok! How many of you knew about this law?) No sweet talking or long sad face would convince her to let me on. I had to go home and get a new passport. “You can’t get there from here no matter what!!!” After traveling the next day to Fredericton and successfully applying for a new passport, I managed to rebook my flights and rebook the trip to Manila.

I was expecting the train cars to be all cleared and reconditioned and just waiting for me to install the equipment. Well it did not quite turn out that way. The Manila team had removed all the contents of the cars and power washed them but nothing had yet been reconditioned. They were waiting for my arrival before they refinished the insides. We began by manually pushing the rail car about 1/2 km down the track to its permanent location right beside the main train station. Then we installed flooring and electrical. We then took apart the shipping crates we had built in Moncton and used the wood to build the partitions, walls, counters and cabinets in the rail car. Finally, plumbing, vinyl tiles, painting and drapery.

Tools we take for granted here in Canada were not readily available to us there so construction was frustratingly slow. For example, we had no circular saw and no usable drill to work with so we were using a jig saw to cut 8-foot plywood flooring and manual screwdrivers to take apart the containers.(Think 1,500 screws removed by hand!). Stuffy railway car, all panorama glass windows, 35°C heat, no air conditioning and the start of monsoon season. You get the picture.

Well I did not think it was possible. The odds were so stacked against us. The logistics, the working materials, the work facility all seemed to say Na Na Na Na Na. Well see for yourself. Look at the pictures. These were from Monday afternoon (June 17), right after a monsoon downpour, the day before I left Manila. There is still some cosmetic work to do. The coach will be covered with a sticker (like you see on city buses when they are advertising). Look at the pictures to compare the Before and the After. I was so impressed with what we did. I lost my cool a few times. (The carpenter put up the frame bars upside down!) The drawers had no handles (drill did not work due to power failure) but were shut tight and unable to be opened without a blade!!!

I am a natural skeptic but this project showed me what you could do if you really want to. The clinic is laid out in this order: When you enter there is a reception desk, followed by the frame dispensary, then the pretest room, the lab and finally the optometric exam room. All the electrical outlets on the left side are 110 volts and those on the right are 220. 3 air cons control the temperature. Curtains control the ambient light.

We had a ribbon cutting ceremony with the PNR GM, the Union President and myself. We had local Rotary and Lions Club Presidents and the Dean of the Optometry School at MCU University. All the equipment works (except I don’t know how to operate most of it!!!) A few short speeches, some good Filipino finger foods and drinks and everyone was congratulating everyone.

In the next 3 months, the Optometry School will use the facility as a training site for final year students. Mostly because they do not have this kind of stuff at the school. Their job will be to inventory everything and to research the net for operating manuals of the instruments and familiarize themselves with them. (Then teach me how to use them!)

The ophthalmology equipment is in storage. The clinic at St John of God will be the location for the cataract surgeries. Dr. Santos, the ophthalmologist, will layout that clinic. The lasers will end up at Santa Anna City Hospital since they do not have such things and it will allow the OMDs to do more sophisticated surgeries (don't ask me what). As the downpour was pummeling the train car, I thought WHAT IF THIS THING LEAKS!!! The engineer guaranteed me it will not leak. I still had my man Jimmy cover each piece of equipment with a large garbage bag, just in case.

Jimmy is 17 years old; he has become my main man. He knows where everything is, where I left anything and he will do anything I ask. He sleeps in the train coach as security until we get metal grills on the back windows. I want to adopt him. His father died when he was three, his mother abandoned him and his 2 siblings when he was 6. He has not seen his relatives since. He was picking up tennis balls at the tennis court when Nica hired him to work for her in the warehouse. I left him all my tools so he can be the repairman for the equipment. He is loyal to a fault. He won’t even let me go to the toilet without following me and waiting by the door.

I left the project in the state I thought I would be finding the project when I arrived. But that is just the way things work. Next time I go back, it will have had several dry runs with real patients and equipment will have been tested and familiarized and the learning curve will not have to be as steep.

Thanks to all of you who helped in anyway with this project so far. Your names will be on a list on the Sticker on the train coach. The Canadian flag flew pretty proudly that day. But it was a cooperative effort and a willingness to see it through that made it come to fruition. I have some more news but it will have to wait for the next time.

Thank you all so very much.

Respectfully submitted,

Dr. Pasq Marcantonio

Excerpts from:

SEEING EYE TO EYE - The New Brunswick Association of Optometrists

Summer Edition

August 2013


by Dr. Pasq Marcantonio,SPECS Co-Founder

Excerpts from:

SEEING EYE TO EYE - The New Brunswick Association of Optometrists

Summer Edition - August 2013

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